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Spiritual warfare

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Luca Giordano's The Fall of the Rebel Angels; a common image of spiritual warfare.

Spiritual warfare is the Christian concept of fighting against the work of preternatural evil forces. It is based on the biblical belief in evil spirits, or demons, that are said to intervene in human affairs in various ways.[1] Although spiritual warfare is a prominent feature of neo-charismatic churches, various other Christian denominations and groups have also adopted practices rooted in the concepts of spiritual warfare, with Christian demonology often playing a key role in these practices and beliefs, or had older traditions of such a concept unrelated to the neo-charismatic movement, such as the exorcistic prayers of the Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox churches.[2]

Prayer is one common form of "spiritual warfare" practiced amongst these Christians.[3] Other practices may include exorcism, the laying on of hands, fasting with prayer, praise and worship, and anointing with oil.

Doctrines of Spiritual Warfare and Exorcism[edit]

Mainstream Christian demonology[edit]

Mainstream Christianity typically acknowledges a belief in the existence (or ontological existence) of demons, fallen angels, the Devil and Satan.[4] In Christian evangelism, doctrines of demonology are influenced by interpretations of the New Testament, namely interpretations of the Gospels, in that dealing with spirits became a customary activity of Jesus' ministry. Mark the Evangelist states that "he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons" (Mark 1:39).[5]

Spiritual Warfare in the Apostle Paul[edit]

Apostle Paul has traditionally been attributed to writing the Book of Ephesians, the tenth book of the New Testament, although it is more likely the work of one of his disciples.[6] Within 6:10–12 of Ephesians, Paul addresses spiritual warfare and how to combat spiritual attacks; "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."[7]

Evangelical Christian demonology[edit]

Evangelical Christian denominations typically believe that Satan and his agents exert significant influence over the world and its power structures. They believe that a conflict exists involving territorial spirits or other hostile spirits forces, based on passages such as 1 John 5:19 ("the whole world is under the control of the evil one") and John 12:31, John 14:30 and John 16:11, where Jesus refers to Satan as "the prince of this world".[5] Other verses cited include the apostle Paul's elaboration on a hierarchy of "rulers", in Ephesians 6:12, taken to be "demonic" in interpretation. They also believe that Paul's epistles focus on Jesus' victory over these powers. To this end, evangelical interpretations divide history into two eras: the "present evil age", and the "age to come", in reference to the Second coming of Jesus.[5]

Evangelical imagery of spiritual warfare is derived from various parts of the Bible, particularly the Book of Revelation wherein the 'beasts' and 'kings of the earth' wage war against God's people (Revelation 19:19) after the War in Heaven (Revelation 12:7), sparking a final battle with Satan and earthly nations against God (Revelation 20:8).[8]

Evangelical Christians promote the practice of exorcism, based on their understanding of Jesus statement: "If I drive out demons by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is upon you" at Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20.[5]

Practices in Christianity[edit]

The Spiritual Warfare (c. 1623), a print by Martin Droeshout depicting the Devil's army besieging a walled city, held by a "Christian Soldier bold" guarded by figures representing the Christian virtues. It has been suggested that this print may have influenced John Bunyan to write The Holy War.[9][10]

Catholic practices[edit]

The most notable of spiritual warfare prayers in the Catholic tradition is known as the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel.[11]

Pope John Paul II stated that "'Spiritual combat'... is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which monks engage every day against the temptations".[12]

In modern times, the views of individual Roman Catholics of spiritual warfare have tended to divide into traditional and more modern understandings of the subject. An example of a more modern view of the demonic is found in the work of the Dominican scholar Richard Woods' The Devil.

The traditional outlook is represented by Father Gabriele Amorth, who has written three books on his personal experiences as an exorcist for the Vatican: An Exorcist Tells His Story, and An Exorcist: More Stories, and An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels.[13] Francis MacNutt, who was a priest within the Roman Catholic Charismatic Movement, has also addressed the subject of the demonic in his writings about healing.

Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Reformed Christianity[edit]

The practice of exorcism was also known among the first generation of teachers and pastors in the Lutheran Reformation. Johannes Bugenhagen was the pastor of the Wittenberg town church and officiated at Martin Luther's wedding. In a letter addressed to Luther and Melanchthon dated November 1530, Pomeranus recounted his experience of dealing with a young girl who showed signs of demon possession. Pomeranus' method involved counseling the girl concerning her previous baptismal vows, he invoked the name of Christ and prayed with her. (Letter reproduced in Montgomery, Principalities and Powers).

The Anglican-Puritan writer William Gurnall wrote a lengthy three-volume work The Christian in Complete Armour that was published between 1662 and 1665. In this work Gurnall stressed the place of reading Scripture, prayer and the name of Christ.

Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]


Practices of "spiritual warfare" vary throughout Christianity. The development of specific spiritual warfare techniques has also generated many discussions in the Christian missions community. Critical exchanges of views may be found in periodicals such as the Evangelical Missions Quarterly[14] and in conferences sponsored by the Evangelical Missions Society. In 2000, an international collaborative attempt was made by evangelicals and charismatics in the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization to reach some common agreement about spiritual warfare. The conference gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, and yielded a consultation document as well as many technical papers published as the book Deliver Us from Evil.

Expositors of spiritual warfare include Jessie Penn-Lewis, who published the Pentecostal 1903 book War on the Saints.[15] Prolific author Pastor Win Worley began the publication of his Hosts of Hell series in 1976, and Kurt E. Koch published Occult ABC in 1973;[16] all contain elements of the concept of spiritual warfare, if not explicitly using the expression.

In 1991, C. Peter Wagner published Confronting the Powers: How the New Testament Church Experienced the Power of Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare and edited Territorial Spirits.[17][18] In 1992, Dr. Ed Murphy wrote a modern 600 page book on the subject, The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare, from the point of view of deliverance ministry.[19] Laws of Deliverance, From Proverbs, 1980, 1983, 1995, 2000, 2003, written by Marilyn A. Ellsworth, is another important Biblical work of authority, as is her book ICBM Spiritual Warfare, God's Unbeatable Plan.

In the American revival tradition among evangelicals, prominent preachers such as D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, R. A. Torrey and Billy Graham have all affirmed their belief in the existence of the demonic and had occasions to recount some of their own spiritual warfare encounters.[citation needed] In the 19th century, one of the major evangelical authorities on demon possession was the missionary to China, John Livingstone Nevius.

During the late 20th century, Evangelical writers such as Mark Bubeck and Merrill Unger presented their theological and pastoral response to demonic phenomena. The problem of demon possession and spiritual warfare became the subject of a Christian Medical Association symposium that was held in 1975. This symposium brought together a range of evangelical scholars in biblical studies, theology, psychology, anthropology, and missiology.

One of the very significant German writers is the Lutheran Kurt E. Koch whose work has influenced much of both evangelical and charismatic thought in the late twentieth century. The impact of his ideas has been recently examined by the folklore specialist Bill Ellis.


Spiritual warfare has become a prominent feature in Pentecostal traditions. The concept is well embedded in Pentecostal history, particularly through Jessie Penn-Lewis's book War on the Saints[20] arising from the Welsh Revival in the early twentieth century. However, Jessie Penn-Lewis preaches a very different kind of spiritual warfare than that preached by the third-wave Charismatic movement of today—notably C. Peter Wagner and Cindy Jacobs. Other Pentecostal and charismatic pastors include Don Basham, Derek Prince, Win Worley, Bishop Larry Gaiters, Rev. Miguel Bustillos, Dr. Marcus Haggard, and Missionary Norman Parish, who have emphasized using the power of the blood of Christ in the deliverance ministry.

Spiritual mapping and the Charismatic movement[edit]

Spiritual mapping refers to the 21st century Evangelical belief that all history is a battle between Satan and God and that there are currently specific demons associated with specific locations. Neo-Evangelicals who follow the spiritual mapping movement believe that these demons are the reason of lack of success for Christian missionaries and that they can use prayer and other Evangelical religious practices to counteract and drive out these demons. This, in turn, will accelerate the second coming of Christ.[21][22]

According to the Christian Science Monitor, "C. Peter Wagner, head of Global Harvest Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo., is in the vanguard of the spiritual warfare movement."[23] In the version of spiritual warfare of Wagner and his associates and followers, "spiritual mapping" or "mapping" involves research and prayer, either to locate specific individuals who are then accused of witchcraft, or to locate individuals, groups, or locations that are thought to be victims of witchcraft or possessed by demons, against which spiritual warfare is then waged.[24] Peter Wagner claims that this type of spiritual warfare was "virtually unknown to the majority of Christians before the 1990s".[25] According to Wagner, the basic methodology is to use spiritual mapping[24] to locate areas,[18] demon-possessed persons, occult practitioners such as witches and Freemasons, or things they deem "occult idol objects" like statues of Catholic saints, which are then named and fought, using methods ranging from intensive prayer to burning with fire. "[T]hey must burn the idols… the kinds of material things that might be bringing honor to the spirits of darkness: pictures, statues, Catholic saints, Books of Mormon… [T]he witches and warlocks had surrounded the area… When the flames shot up, a woman right behind Doris [Wagner's wife] screamed and manifested a demon, which Doris immediately cast out!"[26] Wagners conceptions about spiritual mapping was opposed by his collaborator John Wimber with whom he had developed many of his earlier spiritual warfare concepts.[22]

Spiritual mapping occurs on both the local and regional level with super-demons laying claim to whole swathes of the globe. Wagner claimed that a particularly powerful entity known as the Queen of Heaven controlled the equatorial regions.[22]

Jehovah's Witnesses[edit]

Jehovah's Witnesses believe they are engaged in a "spiritual, theocratic warfare" against false teachings and wicked spirit forces they say try to impede them in their preaching work.[27] Where their religious beliefs have been in conflict with national laws or other authorities—particularly in countries where their work is banned—they have advocated the use of "theocratic war strategy" to protect their interests, by hiding the truth from God's "enemies",[28][29] being evasive, or withholding truthful or incriminating information.[30][31][32] The Watchtower told Witnesses: "It is proper to cover over our arrangements for the work that God commands us to do. If the wolfish foes draw wrong conclusions from our maneuvers to outwit them, no harm has been done to them by the harmless sheep, innocent in their motives as doves."[33]

Christian teachings on the occult[edit]

In May 2021, the Baptist Deliverance Study Group of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, a Christian denomination, issued a "warning against occult spirituality following the rise in people trying to communicate with the dead".[34] The commission reported that "Becoming involved in activities such as Spiritualism can open up a doorway to great spiritual oppression which requires a Christian rite to set that person free."[34]


Outside of Evangelicalism, many Christians explicitly reject the concept of spiritual warfare. In Germany, the Evangelic Lutheran Church and the Evangelical German Evangelical Alliance consider it to be "unbiblical",[35] stating "The aggressive attitude and the presumption to fight against evil alongside or even instead of Christ, stands in opposition to the spirit of the gospel."[36]

In evangelism and worldwide Christian missions, former missionaries such as Charles Kraft and C. Peter Wagner have emphasized problems with demonic influences on the world mission fields and the need to drive demons out. Robert Guelich of Fuller Theological Seminary has questioned the extent to which spiritual warfare has shifted from its basic moorings from being a metaphor for the Christian life. He underlines how spiritual warfare has evolved into "spiritual combat" techniques for Christians to seek power over demons. Guelich argues that the writings of the Apostle Paul in the Epistle through Ephesians are focused on proclaiming the peace of God and nowhere specify any techniques for battling demons. He also finds that the novels of Frank Peretti are seriously at odds with both the gospel narratives on demons and Pauline teaching.

Missions specialists such Scott Moreau and Paul Hiebert have detected traces of animist thought encroaching on both evangelical and charismatic discourses about the demonic and spiritual warfare. Hiebert indicates that a dualist cosmology now appears in some spiritual warfare texts and it is based on the Greco-Roman mystery religions and Zoroastrian myths. However, Hiebert also chastises other evangelicals who have absorbed the modern secular outlook and have tended to downplay or even ignore the demonic. Hiebert speaks of the flaw of the excluded middle in the thinking of some evangelicals who have a cosmology of God in heaven and humans on earth, but have ignored the "middle" realm of the angelic and demonic.

Some critics have linked the rise in aggressive forms of prayer to the increasing militarization of everyday life that characterizes 20th century cultural shifts towards the widespread normalization of highly militarized discourse, particularly in the practices and rituals of religious prayer and conversion.[37]

Christian countercult movement[edit]

The excesses of allegations made in the satanic ritual abuse phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s have prompted critical reviews of spiritual warfare thought and practices. Some apologists in the Christian countercult movement have expressed concerns that spiritual warfare techniques seem at times to have been based on spurious stories and anecdotes without careful discernment and reflection.[citation needed] Some of these general concerns have been expressed by apologists like Elliot Miller (Christian Research Institute), and Bob and Gretchen Passantino in various articles published in the Christian Research Journal. Others, such as Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, have called into question the claims of alleged ex-Satanists like Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford whose stories have subsequently influenced many popular books about spiritual warfare and the occult. Bill Ellis's work, Raising the Devil, has detected the presence of folkloric stories about the occult and demons circulating in evangelical and charismatic circles, which later become accepted as unquestioned facts.[citation needed]

Cultural influence[edit]

Popular fictional portrayals of spiritual warfare are found in novels by Frank E. Peretti, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, and Darrin J Mason, Ominous.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Arnold, Clinton E. (1997). 3 crucial questions about spiritual warfare. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN 0801057841.
  2. ^ O'Donnell, Jonathon (September 2020). Stausberg, Michael; Engler, Steven (eds.). "The deliverance of the administrative state: Deep state conspiracism, charismatic demonology, and the post-truth politics of American Christian nationalism". Religion. 50 (4). Taylor & Francis: 696–719. doi:10.1080/0048721X.2020.1810817. ISSN 1096-1151. S2CID 222094116.
  3. ^ Marshall, Ruth (March 2016). "Destroying arguments and captivating thoughts: Spiritual warfare prayer as global praxis". Journal of Religious and Political Practice. 2 (1). Taylor & Francis: 92–113. doi:10.1080/20566093.2016.1085243. ISSN 2056-6107.
  4. ^ Merritt, Dr Timothy X. (2021-10-07). "What are Evil Spirits in the Heavenly Places?". Dr Timothy X Merritt. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  5. ^ a b c d Arnold, 1997, p. 20
  6. ^ The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Letter of Paul to the Ephesians". Britannica. Retrieved November 17, 2022. {{cite web}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  7. ^ Holy Bible, New International Version. Biblica, Inc. 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  8. ^ Arnold, 1997, p. 23
  9. ^ Jones, Malcolm, "The English Print", in Hattaway, Michael, A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture, John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p. 360.
  10. ^ Zinck, Arlette, "Dating The Spiritual Warfare Broadsheet", The Recorder: Newsletter of the International John Bunyan Society, 2007, pp. 3–4.
  11. ^ Thigpen, Paul (2014). Manual for Spiritual Warfare. TAN Books. ISBN 978-1-61890-654-0.
  13. ^ Amorth, Gabriele. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels. Sophia Institute Press. ASIN 1622823451.
  14. ^ Such as in volume 31, number 2 published in 1995
  15. ^ "War on the Saints", Jessie Penn-Lewis, 1973
  16. ^ "Occult ABC", Kurt E. Koch, 1973
  17. ^ "Confronting the Powers: How the New Testament Church Experienced the Power of Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare", C. Peter Wagner, 1991
  18. ^ a b Territorial Spirits, C. Peter Wagner, ed., 1991
  19. ^ "The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare", Ed Murphy
  20. ^ Penn-Lewis, Jessie (1993). War on the Saints. CLC Publications. ISBN 978-0875086989.
  21. ^ McAlister, Elizabeth (2012). "From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History". Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses. 41 (2). Studies in Religion/Sciences Religeuses: 187–215. doi:10.1177/0008429812441310. S2CID 145382199. Archived from the original on 2014-07-16.
  22. ^ a b c Bean, Alan (7 September 2021). "Angels from Africa: Reckoning with the New Apostolic Reformation". baptistnews.com. Baptist News. Retrieved 23 February 2023.
  23. ^ Lampman, Jane (1999-09-23). "Targeting cities with 'spiritual mapping,' prayer". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
  24. ^ a b “Breaking Strongholds in Your City: How to Use "Spiritual Mapping" To make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Targeted (Prayer Warriors)", Peter C. Wagner, June 1993
  25. ^ "Confronting the Powers: How the New Testament Church Experienced the Power of Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare", C. Peter Wagner, 1991, p. 21
  26. ^ "Hard-Core Idolatry, Facing the Facts", C. Peter Wagner, 1999, Wagner Institute of Practical Ministry, pp. 38–40
  27. ^ "Flocking Together in Battle Line", The Watchtower, March 1, 1983, p. 17.
  28. ^ "Use theocratic war strategy", The Watchtower, May 1, 1957, pp. 285, 286.
  29. ^ "Questions from readers", The Watchtower, June 1, 1960, pp. 351–352.
  30. ^ "Christians live the truth", The Watchtower, October 1, 1954, p. 597.
  31. ^ Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1988, pp. 244–245.
  32. ^ Examining the Scriptures Daily Archived 2010-09-13 at the Wayback Machine, May 18, 2011, "Does being truthful with others mean that we must disclose every detail to whoever asks us a question? Not necessarily ... Jehovah's people need to be on guard against apostates and other wicked men who use trickery or cunning for selfish purposes."
  33. ^ "Cautious as Serpents Among Wolves", The Watchtower, February 1, 1956, p. 86.
  34. ^ a b Showalter, Brandon (26 May 2021). "UK Baptist group warns against occultism amid rise in grief-stricken seeking to contact the dead". The Christian Post. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  35. ^ https://www.ead.de/nachrichten-ead/2001/september/04092001-deutsche-evangelische-allianz-steht-kritisch-zur-gebetsinitiative-gegen-die-koenigin-des-himmels Deutsche Evangelische Allianz steht kritisch zur Gebetsinitiative gegen die "Königin des Himmels." Gegen territoriale Kampfführung im Gebet (in German)
  36. ^ Pöhlmann, Matthias; Jahn, Christine (2015). Handbuch Weltanschauungen, religiöse Gemeinschaften, Freikirchen (in German). Gütersloh. p. 243. Die aggressive Grundhaltung und die Anmaßung, mit oder gar anstelle von Christus den Kampf mit dem Bösen aufnehmen zu können, stehen im Widerspruch zum Geist des Evangeliums.
  37. ^ McAlister, Elizabeth (2015). "The militarization of prayer in America: white and Native American spiritual warfare". Journal of Religious and Political Practice. 1 (1): 114–130. doi:10.1080/20566093.2016.1085239.

Revised Edition, Exorcism with the Paranormal & The Occult by Fr. Jose Francisco C. Syquia. Director, Archdiocese of Manila Office of Exorcism.


  • Guelich, Robert A. "Spiritual Warfare: Jesus, Paul and Peretti," Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 13/1 (1991), pp. 33–64.
  • Moreau, A Scott. Tokunboh Adeyemo, David G. Burnett, Bryant L. Myers & Hwa Yung, eds., Deliver Us From Evil: An Uneasy Frontier in Christian Mission (Monrovia: MARC, 2002). ISBN 983-897-041-7
  • Wakeley, Mike. "A Critical Look at a New 'Key' to Evangelization," Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 31/2 (1995), pp. 152–162. [a contra view](Also see Tai M. Yip, "Spiritual Mapping: Another Approach", [a pro view] in the same edition).

Further reading[edit]

  • Pedro Okoro, The Ultimate Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Learn to Fight from Victory, Not for Victory (Pedro Sajini Publishing, 2015)
  • James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, eds., Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012).
  • Bill Ellis, Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religious Movements, and the Media (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000).
  • Robert A. Guelich, "Spiritual Warfare: Jesus, Paul and Peretti," Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 13/1 (1991), pp. 33–64.
  • Paul G. Hiebert, "Biblical Perspectives on Spiritual Warfare," in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), pp. 203–215.
  • Powlison, David, Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare (Baker Book House, Nov 1, 1994 )
  • Lowe, Chuck, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation: A Biblical, Historical and Missiological Critique of Strategic-level Spiritual Warfare (Mentor/OMF, 1998)
  • Edward F. Murphy, The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003)
  • Torsten Löfstedt, "Establishing authority in Spiritual Warfare literature", HumaNetten 41 (2018), pp. 4–24 [2]
  • Scupoli, Lorenzo (1875). The Spiritual Combat: A New Translation. Rivingtons.

In fiction[edit]

  • Tobin's Spirit Guide
  • Spates Catalog of Nameless Horrors

External links[edit]